STARZ picking up Torchwood marks the second time US television has intervened/interfered in the Whoniverse. Unlike the failed Doctor Who pilot of the 90s, the change in Torchwood's fortunes haven't really altered anything beyond allowing for bigger explosions. Okay, maybe that isn't really necessary for Torchwood, but they do have an American audience to entertain first now.
Miracle Day also starts with a hot button issue. Convicted child killer Oswald Danes (Bill Pullman) lies strapped to the table for lethal injection. Bloated and unrepentant, he doesn't seem to have made peace with his death so much as prepared for it not to take. And after the spasms of chemical-induced death, much to the horror of onlookers, Oswald Danes does not die.
At the exact same moment, neither does anyone else. Though we know that's the central conceit of this Torchwood mystery, it's a strangely painful revelation for the characters enduring it over the next hour.
That goes especially for CIA agent Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer), arrogant and honestly kind of a lousy human being until a car crash drives a metal rod through his chest. That piercing ends a sequence setting up the other mystery for the Americans: what is Torchwood?
Not only did an instant divide us completely from death, that same instant also alerted global intelligence agencies to the existence of Torchwood. Someone is manipulating humanity (animals and insects continue to die) and of course that's exactly the sort of thing Torchwood solves. Except after the searing Children of Earth, there is no Torchwood.
Nor does Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) intend for there to be again. He's trying to erase all traces of its existence so that the other surviving member, Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) can live a peaceful life with her husband and baby. Thankfully for humanity, the urge to save the world runs stronger in Gwen than the urge for peace.
Torchwood: Miracle Day has an uphill climb. Not only did series creator Russell T. Davies manage to focus the show and hit its stride with Children of Earth, he set a bar almost too high to match again. That also allowed Torchwood to be easily shipped over to the States, for it was grim, uncompromising and ultimately too bleak to stay linked closely with Doctor Who.
Compromises may have been made in the transfer, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The budget seems bigger, and the ratio of clever dialogue and great plotting to huge 'murrican television explosions will be a matter of personal taste. Miracle Day finds a central problem to stretch out over ten episodes that's certainly grandiose enough to match the previous series, and really is a thought-provoking premise.
But unlike the previous series, it has to redefine its concept for a new audience and find a way in with a new cast. At least in the first episode, that doesn't quite work as well as it should.
People have complained about Davies tending to try Jedi plotting tricks in his writing before, but it seems a little more obvious here. Characters jump to conclusions (admittedly, the right ones) with strange swiftness. Then again, despite many Davies-plotted alien takeovers of Earth, we've barely seen how Americans reacted and processed things. It's just an odd leap from no one is dying to aliens must be responsible.
And yes, there are a lot of explosions and graphic gore, though at least the viscera isn't displayed too gratuitously. Torchwood has always danced nearer that than its more family oriented counterpart shows; it still can come as a bit of a shock.
On the other hand, Davies has solved a problem with this plot. Though the character of Jack Harkness is supposed to be immortal and eternally young, Barrowman is not. Already efforts to keep him looking like he did when the character first appeared look a little plastic.
When everyone on Earth stops dying, Captain Jack seems to have received only part of the gift, a point that may be lost on new viewers. For Jack Harkness is immortal -- briefly hinted at but deflected by him. Only now, he no longer heals, which means he can also age.
While he says this means he can die when others can't, we really don't have any proof of that. We do have the grotesquely demonstrated evidence that damage done to the body may no longer be fatal, but it also may never go away.
That's neatly and surprisingly subtly shown by Rex Matheson (fantastic American superspy name), blustering his way into forming a new Torchwood team while still sporting a sucking chest wound. At best, a combination of constant blood loss and painkillers are going to be muddling his thinking at a time when he has waaaay too much to process.
Of course, Matheson isn't nearly as tough as Gwen, and Eve Myles keeps building on a great bad-ass role for both sides of the Atlantic. She's also faced with the toughest dilemma for any new parent -- realizing that her actions may endanger her child, but still have to be done. While Barrowman remains charming and sensitive, the real antagonist gets chilling life from Pullman.
This is a completely out of character role for him, a handsome leading man who never quite became the movie star he could have been. Pullman is only barely recognizable, and it's not just make-up.
His stance, his habit of unsettling everyone around him by never quite making eye contact, and disturbingly the cadence of his speech add up to a performance that completely buries the actor in the character but is typically underplayed.
So we're in for another ride with Torchwood in the USA. It's going to be bigger, certainly, but it needs a few episodes to prove that it's going to be better.